Posting a Facebook status update, checking a Twitter stream or making a Google search are second nature to a whole generation of techno-savvy Brits. In fact, ask most people, and they couldn’t imagine a world without the internet. And as the net has become faster and increasingly accessible it’s not unreasonable to think that the internet must be becoming more reliable too.
However, a government report has shown that unless the IT industry starts taking climate change seriously, surfing the web could be something we’ll no longer be able to take for granted.
Internet at risk from extreme weather
It’s partly to do with the trend towards sharing computer infrastructure, with off-site data centres and the emergence of ‘cloud computing’, where data and applications are accessed via the internet instead of a computer’s hard drive.
This means that IT systems are becoming ever more reliant on a huge web of above and underground cables and infrastructure. As climate change is expected to bring about more severe and frequent extreme weather in the next few decades, this infrastructure will be more at risk. Put simply, more extreme weather could mean the internet is disrupted more often.
Infrastructure threats from climate change
Underground infrastructure like cable and copper wire networks are at risk of flooding, rising water tables, snow melt and subsidence. Over ground infrastructure like masts, antennae, switch boxes, aerials, overhead wires and cables are at risk from rain, snow and wind, flooding, subsidence and condensation from high humidity. High winds and higher temperatures also reduce the lifespan of infrastructure.
Milder winters promise mixed blessings
There could be an upside, however. While climate change is expected to pose extra risks in summer, the IT infrastructure will generally be less at risk during milder winters. Despite this, occasional cold weather extremes will also have to be planned for. Ironically, if winters do get warmer, and cold weather becomes less frequent but more severe, we risk not having enough skills and experience to deal with these cold spells. So when the snow comes it might not only be the trains that don’t run, it could spell disaster for the internet as well.
Global links put Britain at risk
A further issue it that as IT provision becomes more globally linked, the UK could increasingly be affected by extreme weather in places like China, India and South America, which are likely to be more affected by climate change than us. And while it’s highly unlikely that the entire UK internet could ever go down, as climate change takes hold, localised IT disruption will become an even greater threat.
IT industry slow to respond
It’s a real risk, and the report, produced for the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that the IT industry has so far been slow to respond to the challenge of climate change. Scary stuff, and worth remembering that we shouldn’t take the internet for granted.