Suzuki slams governments, business for ‘inaction’ on climate change

The world economy is fundamentally flawed because it’s based on the false assumption that growth can last forever, says David Suzuki.

The environmentalist, author, broadcaster and leader of the non-profit David Suzuki Foundation spoke at a Toronto event hosted by Hitachi Data Systems Corp. (HDS) based in Santa Clara, Calif.

In a passionate presentation that lambasted governments and corporations for inaction on climate change, he drove home the message that humanity is on the brink of a calamity. Either the world acts now to reverse climate change or there will be widespread human suffering in the future.

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“Growth has become defined as progress,” Suzuki told the audience. “But nothing can grow forever. We’ve created the illusion that everything is fine by using up the legacy of our children.”

The event also focused on the exponential growth of digital data and the money and power expended to store all that data.

There will be more than 1.8 zettabytes of digital storage by 2011, analyst firm IDC in Framingham, Mass. has estimated that in 2008, the world’s data was collectively around 5 exabytes, equivalent to 17 billion 8 GB iPhones. A zettabyte is 1,024 exabytes.

Apart from the money spent maintaining all that information, there’s also massive amounts of power used up to keep discs spinning, and cool the data centres storing those drives, said HDS executives.

“There’s no silver bullet here,” said Asim Zaheer, vice-president at HDS. “You have to offers users ways to maximize what they already have. Compress the data, de-duplicate the data, virtualize the infrastructure.”

In a nutshell, HDS helps large companies store more data with fewer disks. Using a tiered storage system, only the most often used data is stored on high performance drives – this is often about 10 per cent of all data stored. The rest is stored in ways that require less power to support.

It’s all part of the company’s “Eco-friendly datacentre project” that aims at cutting power consumption 50 per cent by 2012 and reducing 330,000 tons of carbon emissions.

The key to tiered storage systems is to make sure users don’t notice a performance hit when trying to access specific data, explains Claus Mikkelsen, chief scientist at HDS. There’s nothing different an end-user of this system is required to do.

“A file you haven’t used in six months might take you another second to get at,” he says. “Not all applications need the high performance storage we can provide.”

Mikkelsen uses a simple analogy to explain the concept. For things you store in your house, you’ll probably keep it in the hallway closet if you use it everyday. But if you use it once a month, it might be in the garage. If you never use it but want to keep it, you might have a storage locker across town. Data can be approached the same way.

Employees might be willing to wait that extra second if they understand it helps save energy, Suzuki says. “That type of commitment will help employees thrive and feel proud.”

He says firms with a green approach are often offer coaching to employees working from the ground up. The Suzuki Foundation trains environmental ambassadors to teach other employees about green practices and principles.

Those trained are committed to doing 10 training sessions a year. There’s also a toolkit and a list of suggested workplace activities on the Foundation’s Web site.

“It’s good for companies, it’s good for the bottom line, it’s good for the Earth,” Suzuki says.

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