Dirty devices exposed in 'Greening the media' public lecture

28 August 2013

Toby Miller
Social scientist Toby Miller: "Greenpeace estimates that if the computing cloud were a country, it would be the fifth-largest consumer of energy in the world."

A prominent international social scientist will challenge the assumption that new media devices like tablets and smartphones are a 'greener' way to consume the news at his only Sydney lecture this Thursday.

British-Australian-US scholar, Toby Miller, will ask audiences to question their dependency on media gadgets at a special Media@Sydney public talk titled 'Greening the Media', drawing on his recent eponymous book co-authored with Richard Maxwell.

With 15 per cent of the world's residential energy currently devoted to powering domestic digital technology, Miller will stress the extraordinary environmental footprint these devices leave in their wake.

"When added to the energy required to make and distribute these goods, consumption from digital living translates into carbon emissions that rival the aviation industry," he said.

"Our digital life relies on data centers, or server farms...warehouse-sized computer systems. Their energy demand for power and cooling doubled between 2000 and 2005, and grew about 56% between 2005 and 2010 - a period when industrial energy usage was otherwise flat."

Amidst consumer hype surrounding the rumoured immanent arrival of the next iPhone, Miller points to the ecological damage arising from such taken-for-granted advances as cloud computing.

"Greenpeace estimates that if the computing cloud were a country, it would be the fifth-largest consumer of energyin the world," he said.

"The metaphor of a natural, ephemeral cloud belies the dirty reality of coal-fired energy that feeds most data centers around the world."

Miller will also discuss the ecological crises emerging worldwide from electronic and electric waste (e-waste), with many devices designed to become redundant or break down within their 12-month warranty period.

"As new consumer and work gadgets displace old ones with increasing velocity, more e-waste enters municipal waste systems - up to fifty million tonnes annually worldwide. Wealthy high-tech nations dump 80 to 85% of their e-waste in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia - much of it our beloved cell phones, televisions, tablets, and laptops.

"Its impact on the water table, the atmosphere, and the bodies in those nations is an environmental and epidemiological scandal."

Toby Miller is Distinguished Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside. He is a prolific commentator on media, cultural politics and the detrimental impacts of electronic waste, having authored and edited over 30 books, and more than 100 journals and edited collection in the field.

Media@Sydney is presented by the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.


What: 'Greening the Media', a Media@Sydney seminar

When: 5-7pm, Thursday 29 August

Where: Woolley Common Room, Level 4, John Woolley Building, Camperdown Campus. See map

Cost: Free

RSVP: Madeleine King on or contact Dr Fiona Martin on 02 9036 5098.

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Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961; 0405 208 616

Email: 0d071c1435682003065426054a23133a2a49631c5127475016