CSE 291 / The Environmental Impact of Modern Computing / Spring 2022

Course Overview

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 logistics.

In this class, we will take a critical look at the 360-degree impact of modern computing technologies on the environment, asking the following questions:

This is a research-oriented course where you will learn by critically engaging with readings, articles, and your own self-selected research project. 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 discussions and activities, 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. The quality level of your paper is expected to be that of a short paper presented at USENIX's Annual Technical Conference (ATC), the ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing, etc.


Active contributions to our in-class discussions and participation during class activities is required and is a major component of the overall course grade. This class is going to be conducted in person, and will not be accessible remotely, in a hybrid form, via zoom, or via UCSD's `podcast' system. Limited exceptions to this attendance policy will be permitted only with instructor permission (e.g. to present a paper you've written at a conference).

Guest lectures

Reading list

The following is a non-exhaustive list of materials we will draw from for this class.

Teaching staff


Grading scheme

Latest posts