“The Single Biggest Thing We’re Going to Build as a Species”

In an article in the Atlantic, Gary Cook, a senior IT analyst at Greenpeace, is quoted saying that “the Internet is the single biggest thing we’re going to build as a species.” Surprising or not, that single biggest thing that we’re currently building may be an environmental hazard. Shockingly, the article cites that an hour of streaming online can use more energy than a refrigerator in a year. Maybe it’s time to log off Netflix.

But what about one of the biggest “things” we as humans have already created? When you think of enormous manmade objects, you think of skyscrapers, trucks, etc. You might not think of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a manmade, floating pile of junk in the Pacific Ocean. The patch of plastic and other debris is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

In a way, the Internet can kind of be seen as a, well, giant floating patch of debris. As we consume and consume online, we use more energy and exhaust more resources. While some of these can be renewable, it’s still incredible just how much energy daily functions on our phone require. And the bigger it seems to get, the more that is required. More lights, more power, and more energy is needed to keep these big data centers running.

The effects of Internet use on the environment might not be as obvious as a giant floating pile of trash in the ocean, but the concepts are strikingly similar. We as humans, as we build things bigger and bigger, also generate more waste. The more we consume, the bigger the impact we leave on the environment. So maybe we need a different approach when considering the “single biggest thing we’re going to build as a species.”