A gripping new investigation into the underbelly of digital technology, which addresses the pressing question of the carbon footprint it leaves behind. In a sort of news thriller, the author reveals not only how costly the virtual world is, but how damaging it is to the environment.
A simple “like” sent from our smartphones mobilizes what will soon constitute the largest infrastructure built by man. This small notification, crossing the seven operating layers of the Internet, travels around the world, using submarine cables, telephone antennas, and data centers, as far as the Arctic Circle.
It turns out that the “dematerialiized” digital world, essential for communicating, working, and consuming, is much more tangible than we would like to believe. Today, it absorbs 10 per cent of the world’s electricity and represents nearly 4 per cent of the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions. We are struggling to understand these impacts, as they are obscured to us in the mirage of “the cloud”.
At a time of the deployment of 5G, connected cars, and artificial intelligence, Digital Hell, the result of an investigation carried out over two years on four continents, reveals the anatomy of a technology that is virtual only in name. Under the guise of limiting the impact of humans on the planet, is already asserting itself as one of the major environmental challenges of the twenty-first century.
Some telling numbers:
- If digital technology were a country, it would be the third-highest consumer of electricity behind China and the United States.
- An e-mail with a large attachment consumes as much energy as a lightbulb left on for 24 hours.
- Every year, streaming technology generates as much greenhouse gas as Spain—close to 1 per cent of global emissions.
- The video of Gangnam Style was viewed around 1.7 billion times, using about 297 gigawatt hours, equivalent to that of a city with a population of 100,000.
- One Google search uses as much electricity as a lightbulb left on for 35 minutes.
- A broadband box uses as much power as a refrigerator.
- All of humanity produces five exabytes of data per day, equivalent to what we consumed from the very beginnings of the internet to 2003—an amount that would fill 10 million Blu-ray discs which, piled up, would be as high as the Eiffel Tower.
- Without knowing, each of us generates about 150 gigabytes of data per day, enough to fill the memory of 9 16g iPhones.
“Guillaume Pitron recalls the origins of digital technology and explains how this new communication tool has catastrophic consequences on our environment…What happens when you send an email? What is the geography of clicks? What ecological and geopolitical challenges do they bring without our knowledge? This is the subject of Digital Hell…For two years, the journalist followed, on four continents, the route of our emails, our likes and our vacation photos.”
—Margherita Nasi, Le Monde
“It reveals the environmental cost of a dematerialized sector. Between the strategies of the giants who keep us in the illusion of a clean Internet and the difficulty of feeling pollution that has no taste or smell, the investigator reveals the underside of the Internet.”
—Marina Fabre, Novethic
Praise for The Rare Metals War:
“An expert account of a poorly understood but critical element in our economy… Pitron delivers a gripping, detailed, and discouraging explanation… A well-rendered explanation of further bad news on the clean energy front.”
“[E]xposes the dirty underpinnings of clean technologies in a debut that raises valid questions about energy extraction.”
“[T]he journalist and filmmaker warns against the optimistic belief that technology is the solution…At a time when many claim to be “citizens of the world” or retreat into naive or hypocritical protectionism, Pitron’s book is an attempt to open people’s eyes to the consequences of their societal choices and lifestyles.”
—Green European Journal
“French Writer and analyst Guillaume Pitron warns about growing reliance on rare-earth metals—which are necessary to build high-tech products…He shines a light on “the untold story” of the energy and digital transitions.”
“Recognizing that the latest technologies might not be as green as we like to think is a good place to start planning for a better world.”
—John Arlidge, The Sunday Times
“Demand for rare metals can only increase in the move to a zero-carbon economy. The Rare Metals War by Guillaume Pitron lays out the terrifying cost…Zipping from an abandoned mine in the Mojave desert to the toxic lakes and cancer-afflicted areas of Baotou in China, Pitron weighs the awful price of refining the materials, ably blending investigative journalism with insights from science, politics and business.”