The VICE Guide to Right Now

How Climate Change Will Kill Your Internet

From melting ice caps to having to ration the available power supply, here’s why your internet access may be endangered with global warming.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
How climate change will kill your internet
Photo via Pixabay

The only kind of real connection humans seem interested in making nowadays is with the internet. And considering over four billion of us spend most of our time online, whether we’re binge-watching that irresistible new Netflix show or asking Google what to do when we no longer have clean underwear, we’re more dependent on the World Wide Web to get shit done than we ought to be. Out here, we’ve even moaned climate change coming for our coffee and our wine, but where will we whine once it comes for the internet too? It turns out that the potential upcoming apocalypse means that nothing and no one, not even the internet, is safe. In fact, the internet might be one of the first things that will crash and burn. Here are some reasons why:


Underwater cables affected by rising sea levels

Since our forefathers had a little more faith in us than they should’ve, 99 percent of the internet cables are submerged underwater. These cables are kinda weak and need constant maintenance stations and repeaters, that repair and regenerate the system. But because ice caps are rapidly melting, it’s causing a significant rise in sea-levels, making these cables much harder to actually get to.

A study published by researchers at the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at fiber optic cables in low-lying regions, and how they'd hold up as sea levels start to rise. Based on the prediction that ocean levels would rise by a foot in the next 15 years, they said at least 6,400 km of fiber optic cable in just the US would be permanently submerged, affecting network connections from New York to New Mexico. Which means your precious Instagram scrolling hours could very well have a deadline.

Keeping data centres cool

If the internet were a person, its servers and data centres would be its brain and backbone, in charge of all operations to make it function effectively. These are, at their core, millions of processing units put together, and just like a hothead sometimes need to chill out, they need cool temperatures and a set-up created solely for such purposes. However, because of the effects of global warming, it takes that much extra energy to keep things cool down at data centers, which means more electricity has to be used, making it all the more expensive. Given that most of the world still relies heavily on coal to generate the electricity that powers the spread of information and hasn’t quite made that switch to renewable energy, using the internet is basically costing you and the earth far more than you can imagine, and contributing to a vicious cycle of degradation. Eventually, it may come down to choosing between your internet connection and your city’s power supply, and how much is social media worth if you can’t even turn on the lights to take selfies.


Being ignorant about our internet use

According to a report published by The Shift Project, a French thinktank that encourages a post-carbon economy, digital technology generates 4 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), while consuming over 9 percent energy at the same time. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up those convenient delivery apps. But it’s important to remember that while the entire world contributes to creating the emissions, it’s only going to get worse as our technology takes on more advanced forms like AI and 5G Network, and people increasingly engage in energy-draining activities like mining cryptocurrencies.

Other long-lasting effects

Clearly, we’re seeing some of the damaging effects of climate change already. Hurricanes, floods and wildfires threaten to destroy not just the internet infrastructure in place but also our very survival. It all weaves a scary web of a future where progress itself becomes our biggest downfall.

Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.