Data clouds called out for dirty energy

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: Have you heard of "the cloud?" It's the mass of data and software and media that's stored and shared from massive server farms all over the country, and those data centers are being built at breakneck speed. But there's a problem, according to some in the environmental movement: increased energy use. Dirty energy use, to be specific. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman joins us live this morning. Good morning, Mitchell.

Mitchell Hartman: Good morning, Bob.

Moon: So tell me about the report. I gather it's very critical of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook?

Hartman: Well Greenpeace crunched numbers from several sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and concluded that many of those companies' server farms in the U.S. will depend primarily on electricity produced from coal. So Greenpeace has a list of facilities on, as it were, its list of shame. It includes a new Apple data warehouse in North Carolina, and Facebook's first data center, that'll be built about 150 miles east of where I am in Portland, in a depressed mill town in Eastern Oregon. Now these are all in regions where coal is a primary fuel for power plants.

Moon: OK, so what do the companies say?

Hartman: Well, no one disputes that the Internet cloud uses massive amounts of power. But the companies all say they are doing lots to operate green -- they're purchasing carbon offsets, they're releasing their carbon footprints, generally saving energy. And that Facebook data center here in Oregon, for instance, it's going to be an incredibly energy-efficient building, cooled at night by high-desert air.

Moon: But still run mostly by coal-powered electricity 24/7, I take it.

Hartman: Right, and by the way, delivering a few dozen new jobs in a place that's seen timber mills close. Those mills, of course, spewed out plenty of carbon and pollution, and the area now has 17 percent unemployment. Bob I have to say, you gotta love the irony here, though. Greenpeace is organizing local environmental activists to pressure Facebook about this issue -- they're doing it on Facebook.

Moon: Hahah. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman. Thank you.

Hartman: You're welcome.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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