CSE 190 / The Environmental Impact of Modern Computing / Spring 2021
Computing underpins much of modern life. Traditional devices such as
laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets are now joined by compute-enabled
smart cars, appliances, and the so-called "Internet of Things." Increasingly,
these devices are enabled by cloud computing, hosted in large-scale Internet
datacenters. The cloud hosts social media, entertainment, telepresence, and
video and audio conferencing. Furthermore, cloud-hosted "AI" and "ML" have the
potential to reinvent many traditional industries such as travel and
In this class, we will take a critical look at the 360-degree impact of
modern computing technologies on the environment, asking the following
- Where do these devices come from? What is the impact of their manufacturing on the local environment and community?
- How are these devices powered? What are their energy demands and where does that energy come from?
- What is the "Cloud"? What are the energy implications of cloud computing?
- Where do these devices go when we're done using them? What is e-Waste? What is the "circular economy?"
- What is the role of public policy and governments in managing and mitigating these environmental effects?
- How to communicate issues related to environmental impacts to the public?
- What can you, as a student, do now to help address the environmental impact of modern computing?
In this course, we will read and discuss books and articles on these topics,
interspersed with guest speakers who have unique insights into the
technological, scientific, and policy making aspects of environmental computing
impact. In addition to actively participating in class discussion, students
will undertake a substantial research project (in groups of 2-3 students) to
investigate some aspect of the environmental impact of computing, culminating
in a research paper and content (most likely a 5 minute video) aimed at
educating the public on the project's topic. While your project could involve
writing code, this course is not a programming class and no experience writing
code or knowing how to program is necessary to enroll and participate!
- US Congressman Mike Levin (CA-49) and Mayor Serge Dedina (Imperial Beach, Calif.): Environmental public policymaking (Youtube.com)
- Tom Murphy, UC San Diego Physics Department: Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet
- Bill Weihl, Founder and Executive Director, ClimateVoice.org
- Keoni Almeida, Manager of Stakeholder affiars and Hugo Frech, CAISO: The California Energy Grid
- The climate crisis and our finite planet
Materials and manufacturing
- How to avoid a climate disaster by Bill Gates
- Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet by Thomas Murphy
Cloud computing, the grid, and renewables
- In your phone, in their air (Washington Post, Oct 2 2016)
- Tossed aside in the `White Gold' rush (Washington Post, Dec 19 2016)
- How a lithium-ion battery works (Washington Post, Sept 28 2016)
- Companies respond to questions about their cobalt supply chains (Washington Post, Sept 30 2016)
- Film: Death by Design
E-waste, product lifetime extension, and the circular economy
- The Datacenter as a Computer: Designing Warehouse-Scale Machines, 3rd Edition
- An information-centric energy infrastructure: The Berkeley view
- 3rd Global Cryptoasset benchmarking study
- The energy and emergy of the Internet
Transportation, logistics, telepresence, and the Internet-of-Things (IoT)
Science advocacy and public policy
- Film: Blame Game Documentary
- The Global E-waste Monitor 2020
- The Long View: Exploring Product Lifetime Extension
- Webinar: Launch of 'The Long View: Exploring Product Lifetime Extension' report
- Electronics and e-waste: a booklet for advocacy
- Video: AAAS Force For Science Toolkit: Communicating With Policymakers
- AAAS: Working with Congress: A Scientist's Guide to Policy
- Title: CSE 190 - Topics/Computer Sci and Engineer
- Sub-title: The Environmental Impact of Modern Computing
- Meeting time: Tue/Thu 2:00pm to 3:20pm
- Location: Zoom