3 ways to counter digital pollution

I’ve been on the decluttering bent for a while now. Ok, so I’ve been talking about decluttering for a while now, and have managed to clear, ooohhh, a good three drawers. Six months later and they look pretty much the same so yes, I fully admit to hoarding tendencies. Not the kind that would get me on reality TV, but I do find it hard to dismiss from my life as many things as I should, regardless of sparks of joy or lack thereof.

As part of my role in libraries, and like many librarians these days, I regularly contribute to the social media platforms we use to promote our services and resources and offer general useful information. So I’ve been constructing a series of short posts along the theme of Digital Decluttering, thinking to offer the means by which my readers can improve the organisation of their digital content.

While researching I made quite a stunning discovery – digital clutter is not just clutter, it is actually pollution.

The ‘cloud storage’ phenomena we are all increasingly utilising is in fact a big fat misnomer. Rather than a really clever fluffy white floaty thing that has miraculously learned just about every software code ever created, it is a collection of vast data storage centres all over the world. Vast, as in the size of Olympic Stadiums, and there are lots of them.

Despite the number decreasing since 2015 when there were 8.55 million, the estimate for mid 2021 is still sitting at 7.2 million. And what do these millions of data storage centres do? Consume energy, and therefore contribute to the world emissions of CO2.

#10 on the Top Ten list of data storage centres, housed in India, contains 12,000 server racks, each supported by 100 megawatts of energy annually. That’s enough to power 80,000 homes.

Some of the newer data storage centres are now employing renewables, such as Kolos in Norway, (#5) which covers almost 604,000 square metres. #1 (994,000 square metres) and #2 on the Top Ten list are both owned by China and located in Inner Mongolia where they make use of the local chill factor to provide free cooling for up to 8 months of the year. Excellent news. However, many of the older data storage centres are still consuming huge amounts of fossil fuel energy.

So, what can we do?

1. Delete the emails! Impact of emails.

  • One spam email sitting in your inbox equates to 0.3 grams of CO2
  • One genuine email sitting in your inbox equates to 4 grams of CO2
  • One long email sitting in your inbox equates to 50 grams of CO2

2. Unsubscribe to the spam and automated emails that you do not read. You know the ones. Where you bought one thing one time and now you’re a member of some elite club that entitles you to a whole heap of emails containing loads of stuff that you’re not in the slightest bit interested in.

Of the 269 Billion emails sent and received in 2017, 78% were spam. Or, 209,820,000,000.

We can’t avoid spam entirely and still stay connected, but we can remove a sizeable chunk and keep it to a minimum.

3. Clean up your cloud storage. Do you really need those old research papers that have long been superseded? Or all of your scanned receipts dating back to 2010? If the answer is yes, but not necessarily in the cloud, download them to a USB or portable hard drive and remove their emissions. 

So, I intend to spend the rest of my day merrily deleting and unsubscribing. Might even review my Drive files. Scary, but can’t be worse than cleaning out drawers…

By Donna Kellion, ALIA Sustainable Libraries Group committee member

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