PARIS-DE was present at Glastonbury Festival 2023 explaining to the public the hidden carbon emissions of cloud computing and the associated routine activities people conduct using digital services and devices. Gordon Blair was invited to host a stall and was joined by Marcia Smith and Matt Nichols from UKCEH at the Futurarium tent in the Science Futures area of the festival.
Our stall was visited by hundreds of people in the course of five days. The public could interact with some activities and information resources available on the stall. The most popular was a demonstration device where the user was asked to generate energy by winding up a little hand crank that was connector to a capacitor and all controlled by a Micro:bit. The energy stored in the capacitor was then released to a fan and was enough to power the fan for about a couple of minutes. The user was then invited to compare the energy they generated with the energy required to carry out some of the digital tasks people usually engage in during the festival, for example posting a tweet, sending an email, holding a video call, browsing the internet and watching video streamed footage. Most of the public were surprise by the amount of energy required when you accounted for the emissions from the full range of devices, infrastructure and networks all working behind the scenes to deliver the service.
Another popular activity was a game of snakes and ladders illustrating the potential improvements that can be made (the ladders) but also the potential unintended consequences associated with these steps, for example increasing the efficiency of the digital infrastructure may seem like a gain but this often results in the savings paradoxically resulting in more energy usage (and carbon emissions) due to rebound effects.
The stall also had a backdrop panel with an illustration of the physical structure of cloud computing and a series of information sheets with facts, figures and advice around carbon emissions of digital technologies: follow this link to read them.
Finally, Gordon and Marcia can also claim to be performers at Glastonbury having appeared on the Laboratory stage discussing the relationship between technology and nature. This was a really well attended event, although with slightly less attendees than some of the events at the Pyramid stage. Overall, it was a great opportunity to engage with the public, share the knowledge being created in our research and raise awareness around the carbon emissions of ICT. And we all managed to hear some great music, including being present for what could be Elton John’s final performance in the UK – quite a moment!
A big thank you to everyone in the Science Futures team for inviting us to be involved in what is now a well-established and quite remarkable area of the festival.
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