The Internet and social media are extraordinary engines of change helping to drive revolutions and positive social change. They've become central tools for how we put pressure on polluters and governments. But if we are not careful, the Internet could become an internal combustion engine that fuels climate change instead.
To avoid that scenario, there is at least one more revolution the Internet must fuel: a clean energy revolution.
Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple operate much of the Internet on 'the cloud' -- the infrastructure that holds an increasing amount of the files, photographs and videos we store and share.
In reality, the cloud is a vast network of warehouses called data centers, some so large that they use as much electricity as 250,000 European homes. Much of that electricity currently comes from dirty, dangerous coal and nuclear power. It is outdated, polluting power that damages our health and is changing our climate.
To put it into perspective, if the cloud were a country it would rank fifth in the world on the basis of how much electricity it uses. Its growth is phenomenal and the accompanying hunger for power is predicted to double or even triple by 2020.
As we sign on, sign up and move our content online we need to demand innovation not only in our gadgets and social media platforms, but in the fuel source they use. We must demand that tech companies clean our cloud.
Thankfully, a few tech industry leaders are showing the way forward. Google is a major investor in renewable energy. Yahoo intentionally builds its data centers where they can be powered with clean energy. And, after a 20-month campaign led by its own users and Greenpeace, Facebook has also committed to "like" clean energy.
Unfortunately, Apple is failing to walk its innovative talk. That's why Greenpeace activists are demonstrating at many Apple stores around the world today. They are there to tell Apple to clean our cloud.
While Apple has made an investment in solar energy to provide a part of the current power for its growing data center in North Carolina, they can do much more to clean up their rapidly growing iCloud. A first step would be to release full information on their power contracts and fuel mix, including how they intend to power their data center in Prineville, Oregon. Apple claims it will be 100% renewable energy driven, but does not explain how
Last October, I met with some of the activists in North Carolina who are fighting Duke, the coal company that is about to become America's largest utility. Duke blows up mountains, poisons people's water, pollutes their air, and buys influence with America's politicians, holding the world's hopes for a climate deal hostage.
Its executives say they expect Apple to be one of their largest customers. Duke cares what Apple wants. If Apple tells Duke it wants the company to stop blowing up mountains and to stop building new coal plants, Duke would stop and listen.
That is where Apple's customers come in. Apple cares what you think. It knows customer loyalty is key to its status as one of the most powerful, richest companies on the planet. Now, you can ask Apple to use that influence for good by providing energy leadership that has been sorely lacking.
Google, Yahoo and Facebook, while far from perfect, offer a glimmer of hope that the emerging tech sector could be a force for good, revolutionaries not only in the way they connect people but also in the way they get their energy.
Its hard to imagine an IT revolution that Apple is not helping to drive, an innovation challenge that Apple is scared of. Apple needs to catch up, and could take the lead by:
- Committing to renewable energy for its growing data center fleet and directly investing in renewable energy generation;
- Providing full transparency of their energy and carbon footprint;
- Advocating politically for renewable energy legislation at international and national levels, and pushing its own electricity suppliers like Duke to move away from dirty energy generation and toward renewable energy and energy efficiency.
- Greening its products by ensuring that product suppliers and manufacturers adopt similar policies and give preferences to green suppliers.
So far over 100,000 people have signed Greenpeace's petition to Apple, Amazon and Microsoft demanding a cleaner Cloud. Add your voice and join them.
We are telling Apple to 'Think Different" for real about the energy choices it makes and about the role it plays as an innovator and responsible corporate leader.
Follow Kumi Naidoo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kuminaidoo