When climate change comes for our coffee and our wine, we’ll moan about it on Twitter, read about it on our favorite websites, and watch diverting videos on YouTube to fill the icy hole in our hearts. We’ll do all this until the websites go dark and the networks go down because eventually, climate change will come for our internet, too.
Huge changes will be needed because right now, the internet is unsustainable. On the one hand, rising sea levels threaten to swamp the cables and stations that transmit the web to our homes; rising temperatures could make it more costly to run the data centers handling ever-increasing web traffic; wildfires could burn it all down. On the other, all of those data centers, computers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices take a prodigious amount of energy to build and to run, thus contributing to global warming and hastening our collective demise.
There are the data centers hosting the web and managing enormous flows of information on the daily. There are the fiber cables transmitting data to into our homes and offices, and even across oceans. There are cell towers sending and receiving countless calls and texts on the daily.
By and large, this infrastructure wasn’t built with a changing climate in mind. Researchers and companies are only now starting to explore how threatened it is, but what they’ve found so far is alarming.