How much of our internet infrastructure will be underwater in 15 years?

I follow Alexandra Dechamps Sonsino on twitter, and I learn a colossal amount from what she share, but some recent links she shared really got me thinking. I’ve written previously about how tech and the internet plays havoc with our climate because it relies on fossil fuels. It looks like the climate is wreaking havoc right back.

TLDR: Burning fossil fuels to run the internet our worsens climate change. Now rising sea levels look like they’ll swamp our infrastructure back.

This piece from last year in the National Geographic is eye-opening, about how rising sea levels are affecting the operation of the internet. Because commercial firms don’t disclose this, the authors ended up needing to scrape loads of pages to get an idea where all that infra was, and found out this:

Cities like New York, Miami, and Seattle are likely to see up to 12 inches of extra water by 2030—well inside the time range of a mortgage on a house, or the planning horizon for big public infrastructure projects. A foot of extra water wending through some of those cities, the researchers say, would put about 20 percent of the nation’s key internet infrastructure underwater.

They name specific companies in the paper, like AT & T, Century Link and so on, whose infrastructure is at risk. Above a certain size of company, there are climate related financial disclosures it really should be sharing, for the benefit of investors, suppliers,, customers and so on, and there are companies who are doing this.

One good example is Etsy, who last year started integrating environmental reporting with financial reporting.

Here’s what they say, specifically, referring to the Sustainability Accounting boards Standards:

Discussion of the integration of environmental considerations into strategic planning for data center needs. Etsy’s goals include powering our operations with 100% renewable electricity by 2020, and reducing the intensity of our energy use by 25% by 2025.

These goals are included as key considerations as we plan for our computing needs, and have been a focus of our sustainability efforts. When transitioning to a cloud computing infrastructure, we selected Google Cloud Platform, a partner that shares our commitment to 100% renewable electricity. Their highly efficient datacenters are expected to help us save significant energy. Moreover, moving to flexible cloud-based infrastructure should enable us to reduce major idle time and associated energy consumption.

In 2018, Etsy entered into a virtual power purchase agreement for solar energy in Virginia. Once operational, this project is expected to provide us with renewable attributes to apply to our operations and computing infrastructure, furthering our goals of creating a cleaner internet and reducing our impact on the planet. We actively monitor and manage energy consumption from our computing infrastructure.

In 2018, our colocated data centers accounted for 68% of total energy consumed, or 7330 MWh.

From Etsy’s SASB section of their SEC filing for 2018

The paper cited though, Lights Out: Climate Change Risk to InternetInfrastructure goes further. It literally shows where there is projected flooding, and where there is infrastructure where the flooding will happen:

I’m not aware of much in the way of publicly accessible data listing this, and I’m not aware of research like this outside of the states.

It seems kind of useful to know how much of the biggest machine on earth, that many of we use rely on every day, will be underwater in the next few years though, surely?

If you’re working in this field, I’d love to chat. Better yet, come say hi in ClimateAction.tech.