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A new Greenpeace report, Clicking Clean: Who is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?, finds that Apple, Google, Facebook and newcomer Switch are leading the charge to build a renewably powered internet. These companies are coupling transitions of their data centers to clean energy with strong advocacy for access to renewable options.
But while nearly 20 internet companies have now committed to 100 percent renewable energy, the reality is that much of the sector continues to grow rapidly in Asia and U.S. markets like Virginia, both of which have little to no renewable energy options.
"Thanks to the leadership and advocacy of companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Switch, we are seeing the tech industry make major strides toward powering the internet with clean energy," said Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook. "A growing number of companies now recognize the need to transition to renewables, but we must see greater urgency and transparency across the board. Amazon Web Services is a prime example of a company that talks up its renewable projects, but keeps customers in the dark on its energy performance while expanding into markets served by dirty energy like Virginia."
Despite some movement, the lack of transparency by some of the largest players in the sector remains a critical barrier, masking both their current size and whether the renewable deals they are claiming are actually changing the power mix in the markets they are expanding into. Much clearer reporting, like we now see from industry leaders Apple, Facebook and Switch, must be embraced by the massive cloud companies and colocation operators that most of the internet is powered by. While Amazon Web Services has revealed some detail on its energy demand for the first time, much greater transparency must be expected of it and others that are making decisions about how the internet is powered.
The report also evaluates emerging East Asian internet companies for the first time, finding that the region is well behind the U.S. market in renewable commitments due in part to fewer clean energy options from monopoly utilities. East Asian internet giants, including Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba, have not committed to 100 percent renewable energy and lack basic transparency around their energy performance. Increased advocacy efforts for key renewable policy changes are needed from East Asian internet companies as they look to expand globally.
"We must see East Asian internet companies exhibiting the will to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, particularly as they expand to markets around the world," said Greenpeace East Asia Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner Jude Lee. "Leading IT companies in the United States have already shown that the majority of the industry recognizes that clean power is both good for the environment and good for business. East Asian companies must step up to embrace that reality as well."
Netflix has one of the largest data footprints of the companies profiled in the report, accounting for one third of internet traffic in North America and contributing significantly to the worldwide data demand from video streaming. The company announced in 2015 that it intended to fully offset its carbon footprint, but a closer examination reveals it is likely turning to carbon offsets or unbundled renewable energy credits, which do little to increase renewable energy investment. Like Apple, Facebook and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Like its peers, Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels.
This year's report scores the renewable efforts of nearly 70 websites and applications popular in the U.S., China and South Korea. For the third year in a row, Apple, Google and Facebook rank among the highest performing companies, while newcomer Switch takes the top spot. Along with Google, Apple continues to match its growth with the equivalent or greater supply of renewable energy. Switch scored the highest of all operators for its efforts to transition its data center fleet to renewables through both procurement and aggressive advocacy.
"Sustained and vocal advocacy by corporations that recognize the ecological and economic imperative of an aggressive transition to renewable sources of electricity has never been more important in the United States given the election of Donald Trump, who has promised to roll back climate policies and revive the use of coal," Cook concluded.
The energy footprint of the IT sector as a whole is currently estimated to consume 7 percent of global electricity, with an anticipated threefold increase in global internet traffic by 2020. Greenpeace has benchmarked the energy performance of leading IT companies since 2009. Facebook, Apple and Google were the first companies to make 100 percent renewable commitments five years ago. Companies evaluated in this report have signed more than 5GW in renewable deals globally since 2010.
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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.
It's become a familiar story with the Trump administration: Scientists write a report that shows the administration's policies will cause environmental damage, then the administration buries the report and fires the scientists.