Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jul 18

Pasir Ris Park
Offshore Singapore

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Wild boar spotted roaming in HDB estate opposite YewTee Point

Toh Ting Wei Straits Times 19 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - A wild boar was spotted roaming in a Housing Board estate opposite YewTee Point on Thursday morning (July 19), before leaving later on its own accord.

In a video uploaded on Thursday afternoon to Facebook page Fabrications About The PAP, the boar was seen sniffing around a grass patch in front of Block 562 in Choa Chu Kang.

A curious crowd had gathered around a grass patch to look at the boar, as a policeman holding a shield asked a man to move further away.

Seemingly unflustered by the attention, the wild boar continued walking around, before heading off to an adjacent grass patch.

The Straits Times understands that no injuries were reported and that the boar eventually left for a forested area near Choa Chu Kang Way.

In response to queries, the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres) said the lone boar had been spotted at the HDB estate at Choa Chu Kang Street 51 in the past few weeks.

Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan said: "Based on our observations, the boar seems very comfortable being near humans, which could possibly mean that the animal has been previously fed by humans causing it to be not shy."

He said that Acres is looking at how to "peacefully resolve this where both the animal and residents benefit".

Motorists are encouraged to slow down and be more vigilant when passing by the area between 5am and 10am in the morning, so as to avoid a road accident involving the boar, said Mr Kalai.

In addition, residents are advised not to approach, provoke, chase or feed the boar. Flash photography should also not be used on the boar, Mr Kalai added.

A string of wild boar incidents late last year had propelled the animals into the public spotlight.

Police shot a rampaging wild boar on a road in Punggol in November, after it was deemed a danger to people in the vicinity. A month before, a man was injured after a wild boar charged at him outside a condominium at Hillview Avenue.

In September, a motorcyclist and his pillion rider were taken to hospital after a wild boar appeared suddenly on the Ayer Rajah Expressway after the Tuas Checkpoint.

The public can call Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority at 1800-476-1600 to report wild boar sightings.

The Straits Times has contacted Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council for more information.

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Dead and dying birds in void deck alarm residents of Bukit Batok block

Isabelle Liew Straits Times 19 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - Residents of Block 390, Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 have raised concerns after some 15 birds were found either dead or dying at their void deck on Thursday (July 19).

Residents told The Straits Times the birds that were still alive were fighting to move and gasping for air. Policemen had arrived and cordoned off the area last night.

The birds included pigeons and other species.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) was unable to respond to queries Thursday.

Madam Julie Harichand, 57, a housewife, said she was on her way home at about 3.30 pm when she saw the birds scattered around the void deck. Some were still alive. She said she and a group of 10 residents then carried the birds and placed them together.

She said: "I think someone must have poisoned the birds. Those that were alive kept trying to fly and failing. We gathered the birds together so we could give them water, and while doing so we found what looked like whiterice in their mouths.

"The birds started dying one by one. Only a few left were moving."

She added that another resident had called the Jurong-Clementi Town Council and AVA for assistance some two hours before. AVA personnel started removing the birds around 7pm, she said.

Mr Manoj Kumar, 47, a businessman who was visiting his parents, said at least eight policemen were at the scene at around 6pm.

"The birds seemed to be fighting for their lives; the small sparrows looked like they were gasping for breath," he added.

"If the birds were poisoned, how could someone do such a thing? They are so pitiful."

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2 men fined S$11,000 for possession of scorpion, importing leopard geckos

Channel NewsAsia 19 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: Two men were fined a combined S$11,000 for wildlife-related offences this week, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) announced on Thursday (Jul 19).

In a press release, AVA said that 27-year-old Muhammad Effendi Roslan was fined S$6,000 for the possession of an Indian star tortoise, a scorpion, a red-bellied short-necked turtle and two corn snakes.

AVA had received feedback from the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) in February last year about the alleged sale of illegal wildlife on online marketplace Carousell.

Following an investigation, a raid was carried out at Effendi's home, where the animals were found and seized. The animals were later placed under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

In the second case, 52-year-old Lawrence Wee Soon Chye was fined S$5,000 for illegally importing five leopard geckos into Singapore.

The live geckos were found in June last year hidden inside two pillows on the rear passenger seat of a Singapore-registered car at Woodlands Checkpoint. They were seized and placed under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Source: CNA/hs(aj)

2 men fined for wildlife-related offences in separate court cases
Toh Ting Wei Straits Times 19 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - Two men were fined for wildlife-related offences in separate court cases on Wednesday (July 18), said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

In a statement on Thursday, AVA said Muhammad Effendi Roslan, 27, was fined $6,000 for the possession of an Indian star tortoise, one scorpion, one red-bellied short-necked turtle and two corn snakes.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Wee Soon Chye, 52, was fined $5,000 for illegally importing five leopard geckos into Singapore.

"Animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status and may introduce exotic diseases into the country," said the AVA.

Those convicted of keeping and trading illegal wildlife and wildlife parts or products could be fined up to $1,000.

If the wildlife species is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), those convicted of being in possession of or found advertising and selling illegally imported Cites protected species will face a fine of up to $500,000 and up to two years' imprisonment.

Those who import animals or birds without a licence can be fined up to $10,000, jailed up to 12 months, or both.

Importation of any Cites-protected species without Cites permits is also an offence. Offenders can be fined up to $500,000 and jailed for up to two years.

Two men fined $4,000 each for smuggling hornbill chick in paper bag across Causeway
Tee Zhuo Straits Times 20 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - A live black hornbill chick was rescued from two men who had tried to smuggle it in a paper bag across the Causeway into Singapore.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday (July 18), the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said that the two men were nabbed at Woodlands Checkpoint on May 12.

The black hornbill chick was hidden in a paper bag in the front compartment of a Malaysia-registered motorcycle.

Syed Muhammad Syed Hassan, 29, and Mohammed Ali, 35, were fined $4,000 each for illegally importing the chick, a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

The baby bird is now under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Importing animals and birds without a licence is an offence under the Animals and Birds Act, punishable upon conviction by a jail term of up to 12 months, or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Importing species protected under Cites is also illegal, and offenders can be fined up to $50,000 per animal (not exceeding a total of $500,000) or jailed for two years, or both.

In separate court cases on Wednesday, two men were also fined for wildlife-related offences. Muhammad Effendi Roslan, 27, was fined $6,000 for the possession of an Indian star tortoise, one scorpion, one red-bellied short-necked turtle and two corn snakes.

Lawrence Wee Soon Chye, 52, was fined $5,000 for illegally importing five leopard geckos.

In the statement, the authorities said that Singapore's borders are the first line of defence in safeguarding the nation's safety and security.

"Animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status and may introduce exotic diseases, such as bird flu, into the country," the authorities said.

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19-year-old is first Singaporean to embark on award-winning Arctic expedition

WONG PEI TING Today Online 19 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE — Ms Victoria Lim's fervour for the environment was fired up three years ago when she saw how passionate her peers were at a youth conference on climate change.

After that, the then 17-year-old changed her approach towards life. She became a vegan and champion for environmental protection at home. She persuaded her mother to consume less meat, use a tote bag for grocery shopping, and use body care products that are less toxic to the environment.

Instead of going for the "typical" degrees like law or medicine, the SJI International alumnus opted to study environmental studies at Yale University on a Public Service Commission scholarship.

Next Monday (July 23), her passion will get a boost as the 19-year-old will join more than 100 youths from 16 other places, including Ecuador and Micronesia, on a 16-day expedition to the Arctic to witness climate change where it is most apparent.

"I hope that this experience will ignite everyone on the trip, compel (us) to take the lessons we learn and implement them in our own lives," Ms Lim told TODAY.

The undergraduate who had just completed her first year at Yale is the first Singaporean to take part in the award-winning Canadian educational programme called Students On Ice, which is running for its 19th year.

Ms Lim was able to snag a spot this year as the High Commission of Canada to Singapore reached out to the National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA) Council to send a Singaporean representative. Canada is the founding member of the Arctic Council, and in 2013, under Canada's chairmanship, Singapore became a permanent observer to the Arctic Council.

The prized opportunity to see climate change as "something tangible from one of the most majestic, yet vulnerable places on earth" unfold before her eyes would be an unforgettable experience, Miss Lim said.

Her adventure will kick off at Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where she will board a ship called MS Ocean Endeavour. The closest she will get to the North Pole during the trip would be the uninhabited Cobourg Island located in Canada's northernmost National Wildlife Area.

The trip aims to help students understand the Arctic as a homeland, and will also expose them to the indigenous communities there, including the one at Aujuittuq, where the most northerly community in North America lives.

Ms Lim's trip, which costs S$18,000, is sponsored by the NYAA Council. The HSBC-NYAA Youth Environmental Award winner for last year was picked for the expedition after she missed out on a study trip to Costa Rica last July, the original prize for her award, due to her preparations for her upcoming studies at Yale.

"Of course it came as a shock, a happy surprise. Then (I was filled with) gratitude," said Ms Lim. Although she does not have a "niche interest" in the polar region, the 19-year-old said: "Being able to go to the Arctic is to be able to see how what I learn in the classroom can be applied."

Through this expedition, she looks forward to refining her focus on her leanings towards a specialisation in environmental policy. Her ambition, after she graduates, is to join the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resource or Ministry of National Development.

Ms Lim's expedition leader will be Mr Geoff Green, founder of the Student On Ice programme which started in 2000. More than 2,700 youth and educators from 52 countries have visited the polar regions under the programme, with the three trips they make each year — one to the Arctic and two to the Antarctic.

Pointing out that small island states like Singapore do get impacted by climate change in the Arctic region, Ms Lynn McDonald, High Commissioner of Canada to Singapore, said: "I have no doubt that through this expedition, all students, including Victoria, will be empowered to take action in their own communities when they return home."

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New fully-electric taxis can cover over 200km with 30-min charging

VICTOR LOH Today Online 19 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE — Two fast-charging fully-electric taxis will hit the Singapore roads on Thursday (July 19) as part of a trial by transport giant ComfortDelGro.

Unlike existing electric taxis such as HDT's BYD taxis which take over an hour to charge, ComfortDelGro's Hyundai Ioniq taxis require under 30 minutes for a full-charge.

The taxi can cover over 200km when fully charged, and the cost of charging is only one-third of the price of diesel for the same distance, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Cabby Lian Chin Hock, who has been driving diesel taxis for 19 years, will be switching from a Hyundai Sonata to the new vehicle, which has a flag-down fare of S$3.90.

He said that the 30-minute charge is not a long wait. "I can clean up the interior of the taxi while it charges. The electricity cost is also just a fraction of what I have to pay for diesel," the 64-year-old said.

ComfortDelGro Taxi chief executive Ang Wei Neng noted that the short charging time is important for its drivers.

"We have been looking for a reliable, safe and faster charging electric vehicle for quite a while now. We wanted one that would offer our cabbies the shortest or fastest charging time because time is of essence to them," said Mr Ang.

A 24-hour charging station for the two fully-electric Hyundai Ioniq taxis is located at Komoco Motors in Alexandra.

Should the trial prove to be successful, ComfortDelGro "will certainly be looking to buy more electric vehicles”, said Ms Tammy Tan, ComfortDelGro’s group corporate communications officer.

The electric Ioniq will also be able to charge its battery with electric energy during deceleration and braking, and even when the vehicle is going downslope.

Like its hybrid counterpart, the fully-electric Hyundai Ioniq taxis share features such as autonomous emergency braking and blind spot detection technologies.

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Indonesia: APP Sinar Mas combats forest fires to support Asian Games 201

The Jakarta Post 20 Jul 18;

To help ensure that the upcoming Asian Games 2018 proceed without concerns about participants or spectators suffering from the effects of nearby forest fires, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) is putting up intensive efforts to help fight forest and land fires in Pedamaran Timur in Ogan Komering Ilir regency, South Sumatra.

This effort is part of APP Sinar Mas's desire to support President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's desire to see "no fire and haze" in the days leading up to and throughout the running of the Asian Games 2018, the timing of which coincides with this year's dry season.

"APP Sinar Mas is ready to lend its best support to help the Asian Games 2018 become a successful event free from fires and haze. Our commitment does not end at just protecting the concession areas of our partners from forest fires and land fires. We have also prepared measures to deal with such disasters outside of our concessions in South Sumatra," said Sujica Lusaka, APP Sinar Mas' general manager of fire management.

APP Sinar Mas has deployed Super Puma helicopters, which can carry up to 4,000 liters of water, for aerial firefighting operations in Ogan Komering Ilir regency, South Sumatra.
APP Sinar Mas has deployed Super Puma helicopters, which can carry up to 4,000 liters of water, for aerial firefighting operations in Ogan Komering Ilir regency, South Sumatra. (./Courtesy of APP Sinar Mas)

"Today, we have provided aid in the form of Super Puma helicopters with 4,000 liters of water-carrying capacity for water-bombing operations to extinguish fires in Pedamaran Timur in Ogan Komering Ilir, some 30 to 40 kilometers away from APP Sinar Mas' concession zone. This is being done to help prevent fires from spreading and harming local residents and causing problems for the Asian Games 2018 preparations," Sujica said on Wednesday.

APP Sinar Mas has allocated Rp 50 billion in additional funds outside of its annual budget to fight fires and haze in the period leading up to and encompassing the Asian Games. In total, APP Sinar Mas has invested more than Rp 170 billion in South Sumatra this year.

The company's investment for preventing fires and haze in South Sumatra has been allocated toward the following goals:

* Educating local communities around the concession zone to give them a better sense of understanding on the subject of forest and land fires.

* Building 13 new fire lookout towers 32 meters in height, each with a lookout radius of 10 kilometers. The company has a total of 16 of these fire lookout towers.

* Building 25 new lookout posts with mini-towers 12 meters in height. The company has a total of 52 of these posts.

* Preparing firefighting teams that can be deployed around the clock and adding as many as 460 new members, in addition to the current 2,700 APP Sinar Mas personnel in charge of fire extinguishing operations.

* Four helicopters

* 41 fire-extinguishing special forces

* Various fire-extinguishing equipment, such as airboats and tank trucks.

APP Sinar Mas is addressing the issue of forest and land fires with two main strategies: prevention and mitigation. These two strategies are implemented by increasing the accuracy of local mapping efforts for the three places considered vulnerable to fires in South Sumatra: Ogan Komering Ilir, Banyuasin and Musi Banyuasin. Fire detection operations have been doubled to increase the effectiveness of risk mitigation efforts.

According to APP Sinar Mas director Suhendra Wiriadinata, the company will continue to play an active role in helping prevent and mitigate forest and land fires, both inside and outside of its concession zone.

"As a company committed to providing the best contribution for the nation, we are helping to deal with and control forest and land fires for the coming Asian Games 2018. We will continue to channel aid to ensure that the fire problem is handled well," Suhendra said.

The company is also working together with authorities and other key stakeholders to prevent forest and land fires in its areas of operations, as part of APP Sinar Mas' commitment to protecting forests in its Forest Conservation Policy.

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Indonesia: Plastics remain biggest threat to scenic indonesian oceans

Otniel Tamindael Antara 19 Jul 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The oceans in Indonesia, known for their beauty and abundant wealth, continue to face the deadliest threats to their existence in the form of plastic waste pollution.

Hence, the "Movement for a Healthy and Clean Indonesian Ocean," launched by the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP), needs to be intensified.

The threats posed due to plastic waste polluting the Indonesian waters remain high, so various sections of society need to come together to tackle the problem.

Among the key hurdles faced is that Indonesia is one of the largest contributors of plastic waste, including the still rampant destructive fishing practices that have destroyed marine ecosystems.

During a visit to numerous areas in Indonesia, KKP Minister Susi Pudjiastuti claimed to have found several fishermen using large amounts of potassium cyanide to catch fish.

The use of only a gram of potassium cyanide can destroy about six square meters of marine ecosystems, according to the minister.

To this end, maintaining Indonesia`s seas is not the sole task of the government but also that of every citizen, as the oceans are the future of the nation.

The organization of "Pandu Laut Nusantara" was earlier launched, and all its members have vowed to collaborate in an attempt to protect the seas in Indonesia.

The members are also expected to work along with the surrounding communities and national fisheries stakeholders.

The Pandu Laut Nusantara Organization will serve as a bridge between the community and government to jointly maintain the sustainability of the seas.

Furthermore, the KKP Ministry will encourage world leaders to contribute to maintaining the conditions of the global ocean ecosystem.

At the 5th Our Ocean Conference (OOC) to be held on October 29-30, 2018, the KKP will encourage world leaders to participate in maintaining the global ocean ecosystem, according to KKP Director General of Sea Spaces Management Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi.

"At the conference, we will encourage world leaders to commit to safeguarding our oceans and convincing the world that the oceans also have the right to be protected," Poerwadi remarked in a press statement recently.

According to Poerwadi, the OOC 2018 will offer the necessary momentum to demonstrate to the world about Indonesia`s maritime leadership.

Minister Pudjiastuti reiterated that plastic waste had become a serious threat to the Indonesian and global waters, so various parties must cooperate to overcome such problems.

"It is our collective responsibility to ensure that plastic waste does not end up in the ocean," the KKP minister remarked here recently.

She noted that the existence of illegal fishing vessels is not the only threat to Indonesia`s marine resources, but plastic waste had also become one of the main threats today.

"If the plastic waste or `micro plastic` is eaten by fish, and we consume the fish, then what is the health value for us, and what is the value of the fish?" she questioned.

The World Bank will run the Indonesia Oceans Multi Donor Trust Fund project that provides strategic support to the entire maritime agenda of Indonesia.

The support encompasses improvements to Indonesia`s marine planning, coordination, policy, and funding strategy.

The Indonesian government had earlier committed to reducing plastic waste in its maritime areas, Expert Staff for Marine Ecology and Marine Resources of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Aryo Hanggono stated.

The government will reduce plastic waste up to 70 percent by 2025, and currently, a draft of the presidential regulation on the management of plastic waste at sea was being formulated to ensure coordination between the central and local governments.

He noted that banana peels took two weeks to decompose, while plastic bags took 10-20 years to decompose, and plastic bottles took hundreds of years to decompose.

In addition, several studies had indicated that if no significant changes were brought about, the ratio of plastic to fish in the oceans is expected to reach three is to one by 2025, and the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

The fisheries and maritime sector has now become Indonesia`s prime source of economic income.

However, sustainability will not be achieved unless the sector is really preserved.

President Jokowi Widodo earlier remarked that Indonesia had to take serious measures to exploit its maritime resources, which he believes were the future of the country`s economy.

He said only a small part of the maritime resources worth Rp17 quadrillion (US$1.28 trillion) annually could be exploited.

"Maritime resources are the key to improving the people`s welfare and ensuring social justice in the country," the president added.

It is now time for the Government of Indonesia to work towards changing the community`s behavior in its efforts to solve the problem of plastic waste that leads to land and sea pollution.

However, the successful reduction of plastic waste in sea and on land, as part of the climate change control measures, is deemed quite dependent on changes in community behavior.

Editor: Heru Purwanto

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Slowing Gulf Stream current to boost warming for 20 years

Matt McGrath BBC 19 Jul 18;

The prospect of the Gulf Stream slowing down and even stopping altogether has worried many experts in recent years.

Some believed that this would cause a rapid cooling around the world with resulting global chaos.

But a new study finds the Gulf Stream go-slow will have a significant impact on planetary temperatures, but not in a chilled out way.

The Gulf Stream is an ocean current that keeps the UK warmer than it would be given its latitude alone.

Researchers say a slower current will carry less heat down to the deep oceans meaning more will enter the atmosphere.

Worries over the fate of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), of which the Gulf Stream is part, were graphically illustrated in the 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow.

It focused on a sudden collapse of the Amoc caused by global warming leading to a disastrous freezing and the dawning of a new ice age.

So much for Hollywood - the reality according to the corresponding author of this new study is very different.

"The headlines have said that the Gulf Stream is collapsing and the Ice Age is coming sooner than scientists think," Prof Ka-Kit Tung from the University of Washington told BBC News.

"The answer from our work is no to both of them."

Instead Prof Tung and his colleagues have reconstructed what's happened with the flow of the Amoc over the past 70 years. They found a natural pattern with declines, flat periods and increases over the decades.

What is the Gulf Stream?

It's a powerful ocean current that is part of the Amoc and it flows from the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and up along the east coast of the US, before crossing the Atlantic towards Ireland, the UK and Europe.

Why is it important?

For decades we've believed that the Gulf Stream and the Amoc were like a giant hot water bottle, keeping Europe and the Eastern US warm in the winter.

It's believed that the impact was as much as 5C, keeping London and Western Europe far less cold than say parts of Canada which are at the same latitude.

But this new study indicates that the Amoc plays a far more important role as a massive global heat distribution system than it does in keeping Europeans toasty.

It works like this - The warm waters from tropical regions are carried up to the North Atlantic where the current sinks them deep into the oceans, with cooler waters then returning south in their stead.

When the Amoc current moves faster, more of the heat that is trapped in our atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels is taken and stored up to 1,500m below the surface of the ocean. When it slows down, less heat is sequestered in the seas and so our land surface temperatures increase.

What's the evidence for this new Amoc theory?

When the Amoc was at a minimum between 1975 and 1998, more heat entered the atmosphere and global temperatures gradually went up. When the current started to accelerate from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, and sink more heat it coincided with a so-called slowdown in the pace of global warming.

Now the authors say that the big decline is Amoc flow since 2004 means less heat going into the waters and more into the air, leading to higher global temperatures. And that is likely to continue.

"It is difficult to predict changes," said Prof Tung.

"But under the scenario that greenhouse gas forcing hasn't changed much, it would be comparable to the warming in that period of 1975-1998, if slightly lower, but it's comparable."

Will the slowdown in the Atlantic current continue?

That's unlikely according to this study.

"We think that the decline of Amoc is reaching the minimum and if history repeats, we will think this one will last about two decades."

"Where we have direct measurements, such as off the coast of Florida, the measurements there have flattened since 2011. In the northern Atlantic it is still declining."

So what will this mean for the UK?

While the waters of the North Atlantic will definitely cool as a result of changes in the flow, the experts says it's likely that the UK will see continued impacts of climate change over the next 20 years according to this study.

"The air temperatures globally will be warming and there's no barrier for that so there won't be much cooling in the UK, you will probably still see the normal global warming," said Prof Tung.

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

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Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet

The energy used in our digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry
John Harris The Guardian 17 Jul 18;

It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.

Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County.

But there is a big problem, centred on a power company called Dominion, which supplies the vast majority of Loudoun County’s electricity. According to a 2017 Greenpeace report, only 1% of Dominion’s total electricity comes from credibly renewable sources: 2% originates in hydroelectric plants, and the rest is split evenly between coal, gas and nuclear power. Dominion is also in the middle of a huge regional controversy about a proposed pipeline that will carry fracked gas to its power plants, which it says is partly driven by data centres’ insatiable appetite for electricity. Clearly, then, the video streams, digital photographs and messaging that pour out of all those servers come with a price.

I was reminded of all this by the recently published book New Dark Age, by the British writer James Bridle. He cites a study in Japan that suggests that by 2030, the power requirements of digital services will outstrip the nation’s entire current generation capacity. He quotes an American report from 2013 – ironically enough, commissioned by coal industry lobbyists – that pointed out that using either a tablet or smartphone to wirelessly watch an hour of video a week used roughly the same amount of electricity (largely consumed at the data-centre end of the process) as two new domestic fridges.

If you worry about climate change and a cause celebre such as the expansion of Heathrow airport, it is worth considering that data centres are set to soon have a bigger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry. Yet as Bridle points out, even that statistic doesn’t quite do justice to some huge potential problems. He mentions the vast amounts of electricity consumed by the operations of the online currency Bitcoin – which, at the height of the speculative frenzies earlier this year, was set to produce an annual amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to 1m transatlantic flights. And he’s anxious about what will happen next: “In response to vast increases in data storage and computational capacity in the last decade, the amount of energy used by data centres has doubled every four years, and is expected to triple in the next 10 years.”

These changes are partly being driven by the so-called internet of things: the increasing array of everyday devices – from TVs, through domestic security devices, to lighting systems, and countless modes of transport – that constantly emit and receive data. If driverless cars ever arrive in our lives, those same flows will increase hugely. At the same time, the accelerating rollout of the internet and its associated technologies in the developing world will add to the load.

About a decade ago, we were being told to fight climate change by switching off our TVs and stereos. If the battle is now even more urgent, how does it fit with a world in which router lights constantly flicker, and all the devices we own will be in constant, energy-intensive communication with distant mega-computers?

But some good news. Whatever its other ethical contortions, Silicon Valley has an environmental conscience. Facebook has pledged to, sooner or later, power its operations using “100% clean and renewable energy”. Google says it has already achieved that goal. So does Apple. Yet even if you factor in efficiency improvements, beneath many of these claims lies a reality in which the vast and constant demand for power means such companies inevitably use energy generated by fossil fuels, and then atone for it using the often questionable practice of carbon offsetting.

And among the big tech corporations, there is one big focus of worry: Amazon, whose ever-expanding cloud computing wing, Amazon Web Services, offers “the on-demand delivery of computer power, database storage … and other IT resources” and provides most of the computing power behind Netflix. This sits at the heart of data centres’ relentless expansion. Green campaigners bemoan the fact that the details of AWS’s electricity consumption and its carbon footprint remain under wraps; on its corporate website, the story of its use of renewable energy suddenly stops in 2016.

Besides, for all their power, even the most enlightened US giants obviously command only part of a global industry. To quote from that Greenpeace report: “Among emerging Chinese internet giants such as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, the silence on energy performance still remains. Neither the public nor customers are able to obtain any information about their electricity use and CO2 target.” Irrespective of the good work carried out by some tech giants, and whether or not you take seriously projections that the entire communication technology industry could account for up to 14% of carbon emissions by 2040, one stark fact remains: the vast majority of electricity used in the world’s data centres comes from non-renewable sources, and as their numbers rapidly increase, there are no guarantees that this will change.

On the fringes of the industry, a few voices have been heard describing the kind of future at which most of us – expecting everything streamed as a right – would balk. They talk about eventually rationing internet use, insisting that people send black and white images, or forcibly pushing them away from binge-streaming videos. Their basic point, it seems, chimes with those occasions when the smartphone in your pocket starts to suddenly heat up: a metaphor for our warming planet, and the fact that even the most well-intentioned corporations may yet find that their supposedly unlimited digital delights are, in the dictionary definition of the term, unsustainable.

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