Toxic Clouds and Dirty Data

A project from Kleinman Center grantee Lauren Bridges, made in collaboration with artist and media-maker Adam Cooper–Terán, explores why we need to rethink the energy, water, and waste-intensive model of cloud computing.

Data centers are the physical location where cloud-connected devices and platforms store and retrieve data, which keeps the global internet running. Like any factory, data centers take up a lot of space and use a lot of energy and water to cool the computer servers and make sure your Netflix, Hulu, and HBO stay connected whenever you want them. Besides the huge amount of water and energy data centers consume, they also produce noise pollution, and tonnes of e-waste, which then has to be broken down, shredded, smelted, shipped off-shore for processing, or thrown into landfill

With the increasing threat of climate catastrophe, data centers are facing a confluence of existential threats from water scarcity, to increased blackouts due to overheating, to bomb threats, among other issues. 

This short educational video explains some of the concerns around our increasing reliance on data centers and why we might need to rethink what kinds of digital futures we are building today. 

The video forms part of a larger research project on the broader impacts of digital infrastructures, like the cloud, on local communities and the environment and was produced in collaboration with a local media maker Adam CooperTerán, with support from the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. 

Lauren Bridges

Ph.D. Candidate, Annenberg School for Communication
Lauren Bridges is a Ph.D. candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She researches the social, political, and ecological impacts of “the cloud” and its associated technologies.