Connecting people across continents. Delivering breaking news. Enabling government transparency. Facilitating social revolutions. Stopping global warming?
The Internet is capable of doing so much, but perhaps the idea that it can help rescue the planet from runaway global warming comes as a surprise to you.
Every time we post a Facebook status to our friends, watch the latest episode of our favorite show on Netflix or tweet to our followers, that information is housed in giant data centers which require a lot of electricity. These data centers are a key part of the cloud, and a single one can require as much energy as a medium-sized city.
If cloud computing were a country, it would rank sixth in the world on the basis of how much electricity it uses, and the amount of data shuttling around the world is expected to triple in the next few years as more and more people get connected.
The Internet we love, and the companies that run it, are at a crossroads in terms of where their energy comes from. Many of these companies have already chosen the road to a green internet and a sustainable future. Facebook, Apple and Google have committed to 100 percent renewable energy, in response to users around the world who have asked them for a greener internet. Other fast-growing technology companies, like Salesforce, Rackspace and Box, have joined them in making the same commitment, proving that 100 percent renewable energy is 100 percent possible for any company with the will.
By contrast some of the most popular online companies, including social media sites that we use every day like Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr, still power their platforms with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The largest cloud company currently is Amazon Web Services, a division of Amazon.com, and hosts the data for some of the most popular online brands in the world. But unlike other major online brands like Google and Apple, Amazon is still primarily powering its digital empire with the dirty sources of energy that threaten our communities and our climate. Of course, Amazon doesn't have to remain stuck in the energy sources of the 1800s. Energy sources like wind and solar made up for more than half of all the new electricity in the U.S. in 2012.
Meanwhile digital pioneers are making our world greener, both online and offline. Apple is operating the largest privately owned solar installation in the U.S. at one of its data centers. Facebook pushed a U.S. power company to supply its data center with 100 percent wind energy. Google has pioneered the use of clean power purchases, buying wind energy to provide electricity for its services like Gmail and YouTube, as well as the rest of the power grid.
If Amazon and others want to stay innovative and relevant, it's high time they made the switch to the abundant, sustainable, renewable energy of today.
Simply put, we need a greener online to preserve a greener offline.
The Internet has helped move the world to more freedom, transparency and democracy. It's only natural that it moves the world to a clean energy revolution that will last for generations to come. These companies can make that happen, but only if they hear from you.
Join me in asking our favorite Internet companies to commit to 100 percent renewable energy for their data centers.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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