The internet takes on two distinct forms. The first form is the physical infrastructure that consists mainly of hardware, along with the power that is needed to keep the hardware up and running. The second form is mental, where individual users are “transported” to places where they can either be passive or active in their use of the internet.
In the sense of harm to the environment, the physical internet infrastructure poses a great problem. Massive amounts of electrical power serve as the bloodstream of the internet, and there are no sources of electrical power that are completely harmless to the environment.
But power is not the only problem that is created by the increasing use of the internet. The Earth gives up substances that go into the hardware of silicon wafers, batteries, computer screens, cables and other components. These components will either become growing waste and disposal hazards, or they will continue to require highly destructive mining and processing, especially where the rare earth or lanthanoid substances are concerned.
As a result, while the major efforts on this Earth day have been to call for more “green” or Earth friendly power, an equal amount of focus needs to go toward better ways of dealing with the environmentally harmful aspects of producing and disposing of equipment that is used to access the web.
In the sense of help to the environment, the internet has been a priceless gift. The internet has provided more ways to educate, inform and motivate the public to adapt their behavior, to demand cleaner power and to demand better disposal of environmentally harmful substances and equipment.
Many of today’s improved and local waste disposal policies were helped into existence by those who used the internet to build better informed, better organized and highly motivated communities. Those communities helped to implement the improvements, programs and policies.
Thus, the internet offers a vast number of ways for the public to passively receive information and facts, to actively express themselves, and to influence lawmaking and public policy, especially where the more controversial power and waste disposal issues are concerned.
As the most glaring and recent example, the Japanese nuclear crisis has resulted in rapid and global changes in operations, in public scrutiny, and in and the future plans of the international nuclear power industry. At the same time, there is much greater and more well informed interest in all of the issues that revolve around the world’s increasing need for electrical power, and this is all thanks to the internet.
In the final sense, the internet is both an effect and a cause of environmental concerns that works in a recursive relationship with people and the environment. As the environment is threatened by the physical demands of a growing web population, that population uses the intellectual properties of the web to work out ways to save the very same environment.