“Will Our Plugged-In Planet Have a Green or Black Future?” As originally featured on kansascity.com by Scott Canon
Chances are the Internet has changed something about your life. How you shop. How you stay in touch with school buddies or look for a job.
But has it made you greener? And will using the Internet more change your wear and tear on the planet?
The short answer is that the Internet could save energy, if not necessarily Mother Earth.
The more interesting answer comes in a longer conversation short on absolutes and peppered with unintended consequences.
In Kansas City, perhaps as much as anywhere in America, that discussion could become ever more profound. If Google Inc. succeeds with plans to blanket the market in lightning-fast Internet hookups — its service will make its debut in some neighborhoods this year — the change could be transformational.
We’ll have access at home to Internet fast enough to download the city library’s entire collection every minute. Speeds like that, Google hopes, will mean that we use the Internet more and in so-far-unimagined ways.
Some of that use could help us cut back on energy consumption, though some will surely add to our demand. The results will vary and often defy calculation.
“We don’t see the Internet as some silver bullet, but it will help cut energy use,” said Rob Atkinson, the executive director of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. “It can make a difference. It’s just not always clear in what ways.”
Let’s imagine you’ve got an office job. You drive 10 miles to work and 10 miles back. Now let’s outfit your house with Google’s promise of 1-gigabit-per-second Internet speed — bandwidth to burn.
Suddenly you tap not only into email but also your employer’s electronic nerve center. With a far faster Internet, you can have constant high-definition live video feeds with a dozen co-workers constantly. Crystal clear audio and video without a hint of delay. We’ve just eliminated all that gasoline burned on your daily commute.
But wait. You’re going to have the furnace or air conditioner in your home running more during the day. Your lights will be on. Unless your company has loads of teleworkers, there’s probably no energy savings at the office from having you at home. Instead of stopping at the gym on your way to work in the morning and the grocery on your way home, you make special trips.
Still on average, at least one study suggests, only 15 percent of the energy savings we make from eliminating your drive is wiped out by the new household energy costs.
Whether it’s telecommuting or thermostat crowd sourcing, some see the changes as inevitable.
“Whether it happens now or happens in 20 years, it’s going to happen because oil will just become too expensive,” said Matt Bauer, president and co-founder of BetterWorld Telecom, an Internet and phone service provider marketed as socially responsible.