Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Computing during Climate Crisis

Mastodon elephant holding a banner saying 'climate strike'

On a day of large protests about climate change around the world I'll add an update about my attempts to reduce electricity consumption.

At the beginning of 2019 I replaced my desktop machine with its 300W power supply and giant heatsinks with a Rock64 running Armbian (a variant of Debian). This reduced the overall electricity consumption from about 200W to 40W including the monitor, and when I turn the monitor off that goes down further to 10W. In tests my laptop also has a similar electricity consumption, although I typically use one or the other at any point in time (not both).

The desktop is still working well. I updated the Armbian version to one based on Debian 10 but apart from that the amount of maintenance needed has been small. There was a lightning strike which fried the USB3 to SATA converter cable which attaches to the SSD, and I then switched over to running on a surge protected plug. Fortunately those cables are cheap to replace and I probably got off lightly in terms of the potential damage.

Currently I don't do a lot of high intensity computing. Creating Freedombone disk images is about the most compute heavy task I do, and both the laptop and Rock64 can handle that. If I were a gamer playing graphics intensive games or training big machine learning models then I'd be in trouble, but fortunately I'm not. If I play any games at all it's very computationally undemanding and anachronistic MUD games in the style of GET LAMP.

So in terms of electricity use I now spend more on lighting or cooking or boiling a kettle than on computing. I think this is the way that things need to go if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. My own efforts in the scheme of things are tiny and a consumerist type of approach can only have limited effects. To really seriously begin to reverse the damage the way that the economy works needs to change. Whenever I go for a job interview and ask if I can work 100% remotely - which is totally feasible for things like kernel or embedded systems development on small boards - they always refuse. That kind of attitude needs to change too. Less commuting means less pollution, and videoconferencing is also totally possible.