Are We Really Going Green?

Yolanda Sun, Photo Editor

Is anyone aware that our printing quotas have been being used up more quickly than usual lately? When I was a freshman I was never able to use up my printing quota; professors would hand out class notes, and occasionally I would print out assignments to hand in. I’m a senior right now, and I only have 6 dollars left in my balance by mid-October.
Being environmentally friendly is such a big deal—it’s so big that professors have stopped printing syllabi and notes. All the materials used in classes are on Angel. We can no longer ask for a course catalog, and the directory is now online. Nothing gets printed anymore. Are we saving paper? Are we saving trees? Are we saving the earth?

I assume so, I hope so, but what I’m sure of is that the school is saving on printing costs by shifting the expense to students. By now I’ve spent $9 on printing, which equals the standard cost of 300 pages. Since we’re only halfway through the semester, that implies that I would end up printing around 600 pages this semester. Let’s assume a third of our students use as much of their printing quota as I do; that would be approximately 2,000 students. If we do the math, that’s 1.2 million sheets of paper being printed this semester, and I’m sure this number is not nearly as close to the actual figure.

So let’s say you never print, since you’re doing just fine with having all the information online. There’s Google Docs, Dropbox, and all of those sorts of programs that let you store your documents in the cloud. You don’t even need to store files in your computer anymore; just leave them in the cloud and browse them using all the different electronic devices you own. We all love the cloud, it is humongous and doesn’t even take up any of our device memory; it’s free storage space!

Well, don’t be so sure yet. It is a misconception that people believe once things are stored in the cloud that it saves energy and space. Does anybody have any idea that Facebook rents out numerous warehouses to store racks and racks of computer servers just to save each person’s profile information? All your undeleted emails and email attachments do actually take up physical space in large computers that only warehouses can accommodate.

All machines require electricity to run, and these digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly the equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to an article on the New York Times entitled “Power, Pollution and the Internet.” Consulting firm McKinsey & Company did an analysis on energy used by data centers and found that these companies only use around 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity that power their servers to perform computations. The remaining energy is used as a backup in case of an emergency that would slow down or crash the system.

Guess what? Apparently the extra power is not enough to satisfy the needs of the industry. Most large data centers contain large banks of lead-acid batteries to power the computers in case of a failure as short as a few milliseconds, a tiny interruption that could potentially crash the servers. Not to anyone’s surprise, there are other components in a data center that consume energy. In order to keep these computers running at the required speed, industrial cooling systems are installed all over to make sure the machines do not burnout causing the room to melt. The power required for these cooling systems alone would have exceeded the power needed for printing.

People expect more and more from technology: faster chips, denser and cheaper storage systems, innovative features and inventions, etc. The computing industry is being put under so much pressure to meet consumers’ expectations. An action as simple as running an app to find a restaurant around you requires servers to be ready to process information, not to mention for when people are constantly sending large files like emails containing video and photo attachments back and forth. Is technology really helping us turn our planet into a better place to live? You be the judge.

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