Electronic Environmentalism

Data Center“Powering the Digital: From Energy Ecologies to Electronic Environmentalism,” In Media and the Ecological Crisis, edited by Richard Maxwell, Jon Raundalen, Nina Lager Vestberg (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), 3-18.

Pre-proof version of “Powering the Digital.”

Electronics and all that they plug into are energy intensive. Energy is another form of waste, like electronic waste that contributes to the material footprint of electronic technologies. This chapter examines the particular ways in which electronics use energy, from manufacture to powering devices to running cloud servers. While electronics consume energy, they are also used to manage energy consumption with the hope of achieving greater sustainability. By developing the concept of “electronic environmentalism,” the chapter considers how we might account more fully for both the environmental impacts of electronics, as well as attend to and even trouble the ways in which they guide us to think about environmental practices.

This exploration of the ways in which electronics require energy for their operation and manufacture, and the modes of (often invisible) waste that are generated in the process, draws on earlier work on electronic undertaken in Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics, and discussed in “Powering the Digital” a related entry in the University of Michigan Press blog (13 June 2011).

A presentation of an expanded version of this work was made at “The Invisible Seminar,” held at the Bergen National Academy of the Arts (18-19 January 2012), and organized by Brandon Labelle.

This chapter is published through the international Ecology, Environment and Culture Network (EECN).

Research and writing undertaken in this topic area has been carried out in connection to my role on the ESRC-funded Energy and Co-Designing Communities (ECDC) project, and in relation to “A Cosmopolitics of Energy,” a presentation at the 4S/EASST 2012 “Design and Displacement – Social Studies of Science and Technology,” and paper developed on the materiality of energy practices.

Image: Microsoft ultra-efficient data center in Dublin (2009), image from Data Center Knowledge