Thermageddon, the title of a recent book by Greenpeace founder Robert Hunter,has morphed into pervasive net-speak for climate change doomsday, and recently The Register website ("Biting the hand that feeds IT") presented a study on a trend that might help delay Thermageddon a bit longer: the music download. A trio of scientists from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University used Monte Carlo software to analyze the energy impacts of various modes of music distribution.
Reporting to the Intel Corporation, the scientists’ "risk analysis" model takes into account the costs of music recording, CD production, packaging, and various modes of transportation for music delivery methods. These start with the most energy expensive –driving your personal car to a retail outlet to purchase a packed-in-plastic CD–and work their way to the most energy efficient–a simple download to a music playback device.
The scientists used the Excel Monte Carlo function to derive the projected energy impacts of these various scenarios. Of course, because of the scale of the music industry, the energy savings from direct downloads is a very big number. Using figures from an Apple marketing executive for the number of iTune downloads for the past 6 years–six billion–The Register took a run at one tiny piece of the study and calculated that the iTunes Music Store had spared the world CO2 emissions equivalent to emissions from 3 billion miles of driving.
The question of the comparative energy impacts of the various scenarios is on the surface a no-brainer and this kind of environmental risk analysis may seem to add a burden of factual details to the no-brainer. But when it comes to Thermageddon–whether or not you believe in that scenario–factual details are what we need to work with. Besides, the report is full of fun bar charts .