Internet Emissions: Seven Layers

In the past year, when talking about the internet’s emissions, it has been hard to pinpoint what part of the internet emits what amount of greenhouse gases. We have big general numbers, like the internet accounting for 2% of global emissions, and then very specific ones, like the carbon cost of a spam email.

But I haven’t come across a resource that breaks down emissions across the internet’s technology stack. And this seems like it could be a useful tool—for educational purposes (let’s show how all of these layers add up), for advocacy (let’s get emissions data for the sections that are missing), and for technical decisions (let’s build with a sustainability in mind).

The internet is often described as a technology stack. The stack contains layers of communication functions and protocols. Each layer is an abstraction, meaning other layers can rely on it without needing to know how that layer actually works. One of the most widely accepted versions of this stack is called Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI model), which was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

So, thanks to a great recommendation from Aspiration Tech, I am began openly mapping the internet’s emissions to each layer of the OSI model. This spreadsheet invites researchers, technologists and climate activists to map emissions sources and quantitative research to each of the internet’s layers.

If you know about data that would be useful in this diagram, please feel warmly welcome to add it. Are there other assets you use to talk about the internet’s emissions? Which ones work for you? And what data and narratives are missing to make this more compelling and actionable?

Featured image: The Geometric Landscapes of Lorenz Stoer (1567). Public domain.

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